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Tension Headaches

Tension Headaches

What is a Tension-Type Headache?

Tension-type headaches (TTH) are the most common type of primary headache. They are often mild headaches that don’t limit your daily activities, but can be more severe. They can last anywhere from 30 minutes to several days, and are often characterized by a dull pressure all over your head and a tightness in your neck. You may have heard them referred to as a “stress headache”, “idiopathic headache” or “tension headache”.

Causes | Symptoms | Treatment | Prevention

What Causes Tension-Type Headaches?

The exact cause of TTH is unknown, but is associated with the following triggers:

  • Stress, anxiety or depression
  • Lack of exercise
  • Lack of sleep
  • Eye strain, such as looking at a computer or phone for too long or wearing glasses at the wrong prescription level
  • Dehydration or skipping meals
  • Too much caffeine
  • Poor posture
  • Grinding teeth

What are the Signs and Symptoms of a Tension-Type Headache?

Tension-type headaches cause a dull ache throughout the head. You may also experience these symptoms:

  • The sensation of a tight band or vise around your head
  • Mild to moderate pain in the temples
  • Tightness or tension in the shoulders, jaw, or neck
  • Sensitivity to light or sound (not both)

Tension-type headaches can be:

  • Infrequent episodic TTH: you have at least 10 TTH per year, but only one or less per month
  • Frequent episodic TTH: you have more than one, but fewer than 14 TTH in a month
  • Chronic TTH: you have at least 15 TTH per month for more than 3 consecutive months

How are Tension-Type Headaches Treated?

Tension-type headaches can be treated at home and in a clinical setting. To ease the pain during a TTH, you can:

  • Apply ice to your neck
  • Use painkillers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen to ease the pain
  • Practice meditation and deep breathing techniques

Physiotherapy for Tension-Type Headaches

A pt Health physiotherapist will assess your TTH; depending on the cause and severity of your TTH, treatment can include:

  • Strengthening and range of motion exercises
  • Manual therapy (joint and soft tissue mobilizations)
  • Soft tissue massage
  • Stretches to decrease the frequency and intensity
  • Education on migraines and migraine prevention
  • Pain relieving modalities such as:
    • Therapeutic ultrasound
    • Heat and ice therapy
    • Electrical stimulation
    • Acupuncture

Can Tension-Type Headaches go Away on Their Own?

Yes, TTH usually will relieve itself after a couple of hours or several days. However, if your TTH is a result of your lifestyle (for example poor diet, stress or poor posture), it is likely to reoccur without activity modification.

Can you Prevent Tension-Type Headaches?

If you have an increased risk for TTH, learn what specifically triggers your headaches and work to avoid or limit those things. You can take the following steps:

  • Stay hydrated and nourished
  • Stretch
  • Practice good posture
  • Practice relaxation and deep breathing techniques
  • Take regular breaks when working at a desk